First off, it was grim and frostbitten outside and waiting in line for even two minutes was excruciating. I got in line at about 5:45 and doors did not open until after 6 p.m. Strangely, the first band had already started playing to a practically empty room. Empire, why?
The first group Helgardh are from Bluefield, West Virginia. They performed in full corpse paint and presented very traditional old school style black metal. They sounded solid, especially the vocals, and I would have been happy to have seen their entire set. I didn't notice any merchandise or demos at the merch table. But since they are regional, it's likely I will get another chance to see them.
Next up was Deathwolf from Sweden, founded by Marduk's Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson who plays bass for this group. Musically the group was entertaining but I found the songs uninspired. I felt like I was watching a really competent biker bar band that might appear on an episode of Sons of Anarchy. The vocals were really strong though. Unfortunately, I was just not into the genre they were playing. They did seem to have a small following in the audience.
The Foreshadowing, a gothic metal group from Italy took the stage next, after what seemed like an unnecessarily long sound check. Again, the musicianship was excellent, but if I want to listen to the black metal version of Depeche Mode I will just listen to...um, no...I will just listen to Depeche Mode. This band's work has been nominated for all kinds of awards, so apparently people like them, but I find it incredibly hard to comment on a band that did not excite me. If I met them, I would say, "It's not you, it's me."
Inquisition from Colombia/Seattle was the main reason I drove 70 + miles in rush hour traffic to this show on a weekday night, and I was very excited to see them perform. They did not disappoint. There is something hypnotic about the way the drums, Dagon's guitar and his reptilian-affected vocals come together, and I think the rest of the audience could feel it. I had watched several YouTube videos of live Inquisition shows and none that remember can capture the real deal. They sounded great, they looked great and they got everyone revved up! They played one of my favorite songs, Cosmic Invocation Rites. Evening complete.
Portugal's Moonspell like to sing about werewolves, apparently. At one point, I think the singer howled. I don't know, whatever they were singing about, I thought they were really good. They also fall roughly into the category of gothic metal, but they exude so much aggression and power that it feels more like melodic black metal to me. The band interacted well with the audience, who seemed to love them. I would go see them again.
Marduk arrived on stage about 30 minutes later than the set times indicated, which made me realize that I was not going to be able to stay for their entire set. (Some people have to work in the morning.) The last (and first) time I saw Marduk was at the former Sonar in Baltimore. During that show, which was held on a Saturday night, the entire room was packed and quickly turned into a mosh pit. This show seemed to lack that level of vigor. Should we expect black metallaers to throw down on any night of the week? Heck it was only 11 p.m. There was some moshing, but for the most part the audience was pretty inert. I think, although I obviously can't get inside his head, that vocalist Daniel "Mortuus" Rostén was really frustrated by the lethargy. At one point I felt like he was chastising the audience for not being more metal or something. At any rate, the sound for Marduk was horrible compared to how it had been for the other bands. From where I was standing I could hear the bass and drums pretty well but the vocals were overwhelming. I could not hear Morgan at all, which was why I love Marduk. So I moved to his side of the room. Better, but still pretty bad. So sad, I was. I can always listen to them on CD.
This was the very first day of Marduk's second North American trip in support of their latest recording Serpent Sermon. I know the first few shows of a long tour are kind of like dress rehearsals, a chance to work out all the kinks and get things right for "more important" shows like Saturday night's appearance in New York. Still I thought all the bands brought their A-game to Empire. I was annoyed that the sound didn't work out for Marduk and was only just a little bored by a couple of the bands I wasn't into. But at least I finally got to see Inquisition, who blew my mind, and I enjoyed Moonspell, who played the Barge to Hell cruise last December.
The rest of the dates for Marduk's tour are listed below. After that, they take a little break and start their summer shows in Europe.
February 21 Poughkeepsie, NY @ The Chance
February 22 Worcester, MA @ The Palladium
February 23 New York, NY @ Gramercy Theatre
February 24 Montreal, QC @ Club Soda
February 25 Toronto, ON @ Wreck Room
February 26 Millvale, PA @ Mr. Small's Theatre
February 27 Chicago, IL @ Reggie's
February 28 Saint Paul, MN @ Station 4
March 1 Winnipeg, MB @ Osborne Village Inn
March 2 Regina, SK @ The Exchange
March 3 Edmonton, AB @ Pawn Shop
March 4 Calgary, AB @ TBC
March 5 Vancouver, BC @ Rickshaw Theatre
March 6 Seattle, WA @ Studio Seven
March 7 Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre
March 8 Oakland, CA @ Oakland Opera House
March 9 Los Angeles, CA @ The Vex
March 10 Tempe, AZ @ 910 Live
March 11 Albuquerque, NM @ TBC
March 12 Dallas, TX @ Tomcats West
March 13 San Antonio, TX @ Korova
March 15 Fort Lauderdale, FL @ Culture Room
March 16 Atlanta, GA @ Masquerade